Dreams in Romantic Science and Literature

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University of Alabama Libraries

Romantic-era discourses on dreams often concern methodology, or how an individual processes knowledge and experience. As the debate rages in Romantic science between rational deduction and empirical induction, creative authors seize on the disunity. Both the deductive and the inductive methodologies of Romantic science relegate dreams to unscientific thought, and Romantic poets and novelists harness the ambiguity of dreams in scientific discourses to question the methodological approaches on which the scientific community is built. Dreams emerge as a Romantic epistemological problem in the Scottish Enlightenment. Romantic literary scholars interested in dreams neglect the debate between David Hume and Andrew Baxter concerning the immateriality of the soul, a debate that may have cost Hume the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University. Baxter argues against Hume’s skeptical and empirical philosophy of mind and articulates a rationally argued metaphysics favoring the existence of an immaterial soul. Baxter builds his metaphysics on the inertness of matter and Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, and his work articulates a dream theory in which disembodied spirits cause dreams through a supernatural interaction with human physiology in which they activate the senses immaterially. The debate between Hume and Baxter occurs as the concepts of vitality emerge in Scottish physiology that instigate the debates on dreams in Romantic medicine. Scottish physiologists first incorporate the concept of the immaterial soul into scientific discourse through the concept of vitality, the study of the unverifiable principle or power that creates and sustains life. This concept of vitality and the resonance of dreams in early physiological discourses structure the medical concepts driving the Romantic vitality debates. This dissertation reconstructs those cultural discourses through close-readings of both scientific texts and literary dreams in the works of various Romantic authors and artists: including Ann Radcliffe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Erasmus Darwin, Henry Fuseli, James Beattie, William Lawrence, John Abernethy, Percy Bysshe Shelley, James Curry, and John Keats. These authors consider whether these dreams and nightmares originate from spirits, the body, or the imagination, and literary authors utilize an aesthetic of dreaming to interrogate the methodologies and the epistemology of the emerging sciences.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
English literature, History of Medicine, History of Science, Nightmare, Physiology, Romanticism